How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?

Just give them the chance, says John Peterson, a vocational agriculture teacher who believes his students learn more about running a farm by actually participating in such an operation.Five days a week, four school periods each day for an entire school year, about two dozen Granite District students have classes at Salt Lake County's Wheeler Historic Farm.

They help build animal pens, build and repair fences, plant and harvest crops such as alfalfa and field corn. They raise a variety of livestock, including riding and draft horses, dairy cattle, sheep and pigs. They assist with landscaping and general maintenance.

At the end of the experience, if they can pass a test, they earn five hours of credit through Utah State University.

In all likelihood, few of the students will make a living in agriculture, Peterson said, but "skills gained at Wheeler Farm can help train them, no matter what their eventual lifetime employment. We have a full spectrum of students enrolled. Where else can you learn to ride and shoe a horse or operate a tractor and get school credit for it?"

An understanding of agriculture as the country's largest industry is worthwhile itself, Peterson said.

"Say a student becomes a banker. If someone approaches him for a loan to buy a farm, that former student will be more aware of what such a transaction involves."

His students also form the nucleus of the Granite Mountain Chapter, Future Farmers of America. Earlier this year, they took top state honors in the "Building our American Communities" project. As a result, Peterson and Michael Caldwell traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in a national conference on community development.

The Granite students are largely responsible for the farm operation at Wheeler, while the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Division oversees other aspects of running the 75-year-old historical farm.

"I literally drove a tractor over the site about 141/2 years ago and I've been coming back ever since," said Peterson, a Lehi farm native, of the joint project.

The historical farm is open to the public and sponsors many activities during the year. It receives more visitors than any other county park.